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    Reading in a Foreign LanguageVolume 16, No. 1, April 2004ISSN 1539-0578

    Reviewed work:

    Reading and Adult English Language Learners: A Review of the Research. (2003).Miriam Burt, Joy Kreeft Peyton and Rebecca Adams. Washington D.C.: CAL,Center for Applied Linguistics and National Center for ESL Literacy Education.Pp. 46. ISBN: NCL-9658-RAELL2. $12.95

    Reviewed by:

    Angela S. Y. LooMacquarie University

    This review discusses a volume that is itself a review and an annotated bibliography of researchon reading development for adults learning English. This volume is especially useful forpractitioners, graduate students, researchers and policy makers, for it provides an understandingabout (a) what is known about how adult English language learners learn to read in English; (b)the types of activities that facilitate this process and (c) what still needs to be researched. Thebook is divided into four sections: (1) Factors Influencing Adult Literacy Development inEnglish; (2) the Process of Learning to Read in a Second Language; (3) Reading to Learn; and(4) Summary of Findings and Implications for Practice and Research. I find the book very well-organised, structured with cogent headings and well worth a read as a quick reference to therecent research conducted on reading strategies employed by adult English language learners.

    In Section 1 (pp. 8-9), Burt, Peyton and Adams refer to studies conducted on preliterate andsemi-literate learners, and emphasize the fact that it is important to examine the value of nativelanguage literacy instruction prior to or at the same time as the learning of English literacy. Inaddition, the authors suggest (quite reasonably) that learners who are highly literate in their firstlanguage (L1) and who also have high levels of second language (L2) proficiency will be morelikely to transfer their L1 reading strategies to L2 reading, though teachers should not assumethat the transfer of literacy skills will occur automatically. This section also explores learnergoals, explaining that learning is most productive when the material that students study isrelevant to real-life needs and goals. The authors claim that there is little research on this issue(p. 22). However, I would draw attention to the study by Haneda and Wells (2000: 430-452) asan example of such research. Carrying out a study with the Developing Inquiring Communitiesin Education Project (DICEP), the researchers presented examples of writing functioning as ameans of knowledge building. They compared the effects of allowing grade three students tocollaborate when working on their self-chosen projects as against those that required them toengage in pre-set cooperative learning tasks. The findings showed that compared to texts writtenduring previous cooperative learning activities, the written reports of the self-chosen projects hadbetter-developed themes and showed a clearer sense of audience awareness.

  • RFL 16.1 Yen review of Reading and Adult English Language Learners: A Review of the Research


    Section 2 summarises models that describe the reading process. The section presents readingmodels that may underpin processes by learners with prior literacy experiences. It then describesspecific skills involved in reading. The section gives a brief description of the following models:bottom-up, top-down, interactive, and learners' internal models. This description is useful toreaders who want to gain an initial idea of what the various reading models constitute. Thoughthe authors do not point out the pros and cons of each model, they do suggest that phonologicaland orthographic decoding skills should be taught directly, especially for readers with non-Roman alphabetic literacy. In addition, the authors argue in favor of mixing activities that drawattention to accurate meaning with those that focus on meaning in the text (e.g., reading DearAbby letters and asking learners to give their own views to letter writers).

    On a separate note, the authors identify the levels of processing in reading as (a) phonologicalprocessing; (b) vocabulary recognition; (c) syntactic processing, (d) schema activating. Underthe section on phonological processing, the authors mention that phonemic relationships areconnections between sounds and letters that represent them, while morphophonemicrelationships are connections between morphemes; i.e., units that signal meaning, such as pasttense markings and letters. They rightly employ an example: "teachers can point out that whilethe regular past tense has different pronunciations depending on the phonological structure of theverb, past tense morphology for regular English verbs has only one written form, -ed (e.g.,jumped, jammed, landed)." One additional issue worth contending here is that apart from -edbeing represented as an orthographical form of the past tense, it is also an orthographical form ofthe -en morpheme used for the perfect tense (e.g., has lied, has landed, etc. in contrast with hasrisen, has given).

    In Section 3, the authors espouse the benefits of reading in a foreign language not only for theunderstanding of the topic, but also for the learning of the language. Readers are more likely tolearn about the language when there is a finite number of unfamiliar vocabulary items which arelikely to occur frequently, i.e., since these items appear often, readers become familiar with themand are more likely to learn them. It is also mentioned that some research points to a strongrelationship between second language reading ability and writing ability (Carson, Carrell,Silberstein and Kuehn, 1990). They encourage teachers to identify a wider range of topicsoutside the classroom that are relevant to the interests of the students to help them acquire theseuseful resources on reading. I would agree with the view that when students' personal feelingsand interests are engaged, they are motivated to write better. Notwithstanding this, the authorscould also suggest forms of research that compare writing ability in which students' extrinsic andintrinsic motivations are engaged. Section Four, the final section in the book, provides asummary of the findings and discusses the implications for practice and research.

    While this book is published in 2003, the authors do not mention the notion of scaffolding ofreading as an important focus of recent reading research. One good example of such research isDonato (1994) whose studies are reported in Collective Scaffolding in Second LanguageLearning. Another excellent example would be Building Research in Language and Literacy byLove et al. (2001). The latter introduces the concept of scaffolding in reading, referring to recentstrategies for both L1 and L2 learners of chunking reading into more manageable bits and askingquestions while reading small parts of text so that the mind stays focused on the reading activity.

  • RFL 16.1 Yen review of Reading and Adult English Language Learners: A Review of the Research


    If I were new to the area of reading research, I would appreciate the various models briefly andconcisely described, such that one can gain an immediate understanding of the basic theories. If Iwere a busy teacher, I would better comprehend the emotional difficulties and psychologicalbarriers to effective reading faced by an adult ESL learner. Finally, if I were a student attemptingto improve my reading strategies, I would not self-criticise and abandon my goals of readingeasily simply. I would be encouraged by the fact that one's reading ability improves as a result ofchoosing more interesting and engaging topics, and therefore feel good about accepting andimproving my reading ability by choosing topics that are interesting and relevant. Hence,notwithstanding the fact that research could be updated on areas such as scaffolding studies, Ibelieve that the goals of this book are indeed well met and realised.


    Carson, J. E., Carrell, P. L., Silberstein, S., & Kuehn, P. (1990). Reading-writing relationships infirst and second language. TESOL Quarterly, 24, 245-266.

    Donato, R. (1994). Collective scaffolding in second language learning. In J. P. Lantolf & G.Appel (Eds.), Vygotskian approaches to second language research (pp. 33-56).Norwood, NJ: Aplex.

    Haneda, M. & Wells, G. (2000). Writing in Knowledge-Building Communities. Research in theTeaching of English, 34, 430-453.

    Love, K., Pigdon, K., Baker, G., & Hamston, J. (2001). BUILT: Building understanding inliteracy and language. Australia: The University of Melbourne.